Cousteau presents ‘Secret Ocean’ at Smithsonian

August 17, 2022 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Sometimes, following in a father’s footsteps requires scuba flippers.

Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of legendary explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, dives underwater for the new 3D IMAX film “Secret Ocean,” narrated by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle.

The documentary follows Cousteau and marine biologist Holly Lohuis as they investigate “whether the smallest life in the sea is actually the mightiest force on which we all depend.”

The film made its D.C. premiere at the Environmental Film Festival and is now showing at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History for the next two years.

“We are very excited that the capital of the United States is going to show it for so long,” Cousteau tells WTOP.

Cousteau says such a 3D IMAX presentation would have been beyond the wildest dreams of his father, who was no stranger to innovation.

“When I was a little kid, a few years old, he co-invented the regulator, which allowed humans freely to go … underwater without being connected to the surface,” says Cousteau, who created the Ocean Futures Society in his father’s honor. “When I was 7 years old and my brother was 4 1/2, my father put a tank on my bank, a tank on the back of my brother and my mother, and we were scuba diving every weekend in the south of France, and I’ve never stopped diving for the last 69 years.”

If those advancements weren’t big enough flippers to fill, his father’s film “The Silent World” was the only documentary to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival until Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004). Now, the younger Cousteau is an Emmy winner in his own right.

“I’ve learned a lot from him and a lot from his colleagues,” Cousteau says. “The technology has changed immensely. I remember when he was filming in 8 millimeters and then 16 millimeters and 35 millimeters … The technology that is available now … we film the microscopic behavior of creatures … We can film them in slow motion, we can focus on them … and then you put that on a 100-foot screen and you can see what normally we never see when we go swimming there.”

What makes the unexplored ocean so eternally fascinating to the Cousteau family?

“We know nothing. We’ve explored maybe five percent of the coastline in shallow waters. We discover new species all the time. The scientific community is very much engaged. And now I’m like a kid, because I’m going to be able to go down to 1,000 feet in five minutes, spend 10 hours down there exploring,” says Cousteau, who until now has been limited to a maximum of 250 feet.

When he’s not showing “Secret Ocean,” he’s hitting the festival circuit with his other documentary, “Swains Island,” which just won the top prize in the “Cultural Connections: People and the Sea” category at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

He and colleague Jim Knowlton shot footage about a year ago at Swains Island, 200 miles north of American Samoa in the Pacific. The surrounding waters were recently designated by the National Marine Sanctuary System, making it the largest marine protected area under U.S. territory.

After that, Cousteau will raise money for an IMAX 3D film to be shot in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

From one project to the next, there’s no stopping Cousteau.

He’s been exploring the sea for seven decades with no signs of letting up.

No matter how the times change, the ocean keeps calling him back.

And he, with a contagious childlike wonder, just keeps swimming.

Click here for showtimes and more information.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up